EPW Hearing Statement: Conservation, Consultation, and Capacity: State Views on the Need to Modernize the Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Conservation, Consultation, and Capacity: State Views on the Need to Modernize the Endangered Species Act.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I apologize to our witnesses, some of whom have come quite a distance to be here today. The Democratic Leader has called for an emergency caucus meeting to discuss the issues leading up to the dismissal of James Comey as our FBI Director and to discuss how we might move quickly to ensure that a special prosecutor is assigned and put to work right away. If I have the opportunity to return at the end of our caucus meeting I will come back and perhaps some of my colleagues will as well. I really appreciate the Chairman’s understanding of this and for giving me a chance to give my opening statement first.

“I’m very interested to learn more from our state witnesses about their experiences with the Endangered Species Act—the roles they play, the partnerships they’ve cultivated, the lessons they’ve learned, the challenges they face, and what they think we need to know. I’m not sure we could have gathered a more knowledgeable or relevant panel. Altogether, our witnesses represent nearly a century of natural resource, environmental, as well as fish and wildlife experience. 

“This is our second Endangered Species Act hearing this year, and I would like to emphasize a couple of points that struck me from our first hearing on this critical issue. The first is that the world is experiencing an exponential increase of species in peril.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, has declared that almost one-third of all known species of plants and animals—22,784 species—are currently at risk of extinction. The second is that there are so many species ending up on the endangered list. If, as we will hear from our witnesses, states are concerned about and equipped to handle species conservation in their states, then why are so many species in trouble? Are there funding challenges? Legal challenges?

“The Endangered Species Act should be the last backstop against extinction, and the evidence clearly shows that when states, federal agencies and stakeholders collaborate effectively, we can better prevent species from being listed in the first place. We established at our last hearing that there is generally ample notice that species are at risk. Often, biologists and citizens know years and even decades in advance that a plant or animal is in trouble. Governor Freudenthal disclosed at that hearing that until recently, despite this notice, states really haven’t focused on all those non-game species that are struggling, and therefore their status becomes critical and a source of contention. The question is, are states focusing on them now? How much and with what resources? And how effectively? Hopefully, you state experts can help us appreciate the lay of the land and thus help us understand what the federal government needs to do to partner better to get this critical job done.

“I have to say, the numbers are not encouraging. I understand that states spend about a quarter of what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invests to protect ESA listed and candidate species. If we include all federal agency spending, the collective state investment is about four percent. Granted, this likely means we need to invest more in our states. But it also means that states have some soul-searching to do. If you need the ESA and the federal agencies to back you up because you will not or cannot carry this burden, then we need to know that.

Congress always intended endangered species protection and restoration to be a joint and collaborative effort among federal agencies and their state partners—and a host of landowners, business interests, and conservationists. Our goal should be to make sure we are firing on all cylinders given the magnitude of trouble our fellow inhabitants on this planet face. I say these things with the greatest of respect—as a recovering Governor—for the work you do and the unique capacity you have to understand the challenges in your states, how best to resolve them, and the partnerships you need to reach your goals. But in this particular instance, you are front-and-center in a fight not only for state interests, but also a national concern for species that are part of our natural heritage. These plants and animals travel and disperse with little concern for our political boundaries.

If, indeed, you tell us it’s time to modernize this crucial Act, then please also let us know how the changes you propose will make us all better equipped to conserve, protect, and restore these plants and critters and the places they call home. This isn’t just our legal obligation. It is our collective moral duty as well. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”